Every news event seems to generate conspiracy theories online these days, and the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband on Friday really brought the weirdos out of the woodwork. The only difference this time? The richest man in the world, Elon Musk, helped fuel the fire.
Nancy Pelosi’s husband, 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, was attacked on Friday after a man identified as 42-year-old David Depape allegedly broke into his San Francisco home around 2:00 a.m. Depape reportedly hit Pelosi with a hammer and Pelosi required emergency surgery to his hand and head. Depape’s motive has not been established by police yet, but he reportedly brought zip ties and said “where’s Nancy?” repeatedly, leading many to believe the attack was politically motivated.
Depape wrote at least two blogs expressing far-right political views on everything from Holocaust denial to election fraud. But right-wing influencers have spread alternative theories on why Depape was at Nancy Pelosi’s house last week. And those conspiracy theorists got a huge help when Elon Musk shared a blog post on Twitter yesterday claiming Depape was actually a sex worker who was meeting up with Paul Pelosi and things went wrong—a theory that has no basis in fact.
Musk, who finalized his purchase of Twitter last week, deleted the bizarre tweet and its link to a right-wing blog—which, it should be noted, has previously reported that Hillary Clinton died and was replaced by a body double—but didn’t issue an apology or correction. But the damage was already done, helping lend credence to a theory that isn’t borne out by the facts.
Today, we’re looking at some of the conspiracy theories that have been circulating online since Friday and the people who have helped amplify them. Aside from Musk, the biggest megaphones for these theories have been held by people like Jack Posobiec, a far-right influencer who’s previously palled around with neo-Nazis, and Dinesh D’Souza, a convicted criminal pardoned by Donald Trump.
“The media is assuming the assailant said ‘where’s Nancy’ because he was out to get her. A more plausible explanation is that he was making sure she was NOT AT HOME so the sexual rendezvous with Paul Pelosi could proceed,” D’Souza tweeted on Sunday in a typical proclamation.
But D’Souza is full of shit, just as his “documentary” about election fraud titled 2000 Mules was proved to be completely nonsense.
The idea that Pelosi’s attacker was in his underwear caught fire because a Fox News clip claiming as much went viral on Twitter. But Fox News was just parroting what another news outlet KTVU, had published. The news article erroneously reported that Pelosi’s attacker was in his underwear but was corrected and now reads, “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated what clothing the suspect was wearing when officers found him.”
But that didn’t stop people like Donald Trump Jr. from posting a photo to Instagram showing a pair of underwear and a hammer, saying it would be a good Halloween costume. Dinesh D’Souza also tweeted over the weekend that Pelosi and the attacker were both in their underwear.
“It’s one thing for Paul Pelosi to be in his underwear. It’s his own home and it was very early on the morning. The remarkable thing is his assailant was also in HIS underwear. What does that tell you that the media isn’t telling you?” D’Souza tweeted.
In fact, D’Souza tweeted this lie multiple times, claiming, “From the police dispatch recording: Speaking of the assailant, #PaulPelosi ‘advised that his name is David and that he is a friend.’ A FRIEND! Now I understand better why both men were in their underwear.”
D’Souza’s tweet is bullshit, but it does lead us to the next question on our list: Whether Pelosi knew the attacker and was a “friend.”
When people went searching online for the police scanner audio from Friday’s assault, they found chatter that said Pelosi referred to Depape as a “friend.” But that same audio clip makes clear that Pelosi said he didn’t know the man. It’s precisely the kind of language you’d use if a mentally unstable person broke into your home and you were trying to keep them calm.
The shorthand “RP” on the radio chatter refers to “reporting person,” in this case, Paul Pelosi:
RP stated that there’s a male in the home and that he’s going to wait for his wife. RP said that he doesn’t know who the male is but he advised that his name is David and that he is a friend. RP sounded somewhat confused.
There are tweets that even claim Pelosi’s words were somehow a “confession.” As NBC News verified on Sunday with an on-the-record confirmation from San Francisco Police, the attacker and Paul Pelosi didn’t know each other before the attack. Pelosi was clearly calling Depape a “friend” rather than an intruder so he didn’t upset the man.
On Friday, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott held a very short five-minute press conference where he used an awkward phrase to describe the altercation witnessed by police.
“They encountered an adult male and Mrs. Pelosi’s husband Paul,” Chief William Scott said at the press conference. “Our officers observed Mr. Pelosi and the suspect both holding a hammer. The suspect pulled the hammer away from Mr. Pelosi and violently assaulted him with it.”
That phrase, “both holding a hammer,” can be taken to mean two different things: That both men were each holding a hammer or that both men were holding onto one hammer. Scott didn’t take any questions after the press conference, leading many people to believe that perhaps they both had hammers. Even after there was clarification in the media, right wing influencers kept insisting that both of them had hammers.
D’Souza helped spread the conspiracy theory tweeting, “Where did they BOTH get their hammers? #PaulPelosi” But they were struggling over just one hammer, according to every news outlet that’s since clarified what happened.
In the early hours of the news breaking that Paul Pelosi had been attacked, there were lots of self-styled internet sleuths trying to track down the digital footprint of the attacker. One false story that went viral on Twitter claimed the attacker was Black, leading many on the far-right to claim the attacker’s photo was being suppressed. But the photo that went viral wasn’t David Depape.
The Black man who went viral was a veteran of the Gulf War who allegedly murdered a liquor store owner in Chicago. Needless to say, that story has nothing to do with the break-in at Pelosi’s home.
Politico reported on Friday that a third person was inside the home:
David DePape forced his way into the home through a back entrance, Scott said. Officers arrived at the house, knocked on the front door and were let inside by an unknown person. They discovered DePape and Pelosi struggling for a hammer, and after they instructed them to drop the weapon, Scott said, DePape took the hammer and “violently attacked” Pelosi.
This caused people like right-wing influencer Glenn Greenwald to start “just asking questions,” as he so often does, with an ulterior motive.
“Many journalists see the glaring questions and evidentiary holes in the Paul Pelsoi narrative. But they also know how important that narrative is to Dems right before the mid-terms,” Greenwald tweeted over the weekend.
But as NBC News clarified on Sunday, there was no third person present at Pelosi’s home during the attack:
The only people who were at the home during the violent break-in early Friday were Paul Pelosi, 82, and David DePape, 42, who faces attempted murder and other charges, police said, clarifying remarks Police Chief Bill Scott made at a news conference Friday.
Conspiracy theorists will obviously take this revision to mean that some kind of information is being suppressed rather than the more likely fact that reporters at Politico either received bad information, or, as in the case of the two hammers, they heard something phrased in an awkward way and passed on incorrect information.
A lot of far-right internet sleuths seemingly became experts in glass impact on Friday. One idea that became popular among conspiracy theorists was that the window at Pelosi’s house was smashed from the inside. The supposed evidence for this was glass that fell on the outside of the house.
But if you actually look at the window, there’s glass on both the inside and outside of the house, something that would be completely normal in a situation where someone was trying to gain entry into a home.
Jack Posobiec published video of a neighbor who said she tried to stay away from Depape because he was so weird. “We try to avoid them at all costs,” the neighbor said. But Posobiec has tried to paint the neighbor’s answers about Depape’s political leanings as some kind of proof that he’s actually a left-wing radical.
“Actual interview of neighbors from Paul Pelosi’s attacker doesn’t line up with the mainstream media narrative at all,” Posobiec tweeted.
But if you actually watch the video, this isn’t someone who actually knows what Depape’s politics happen to be and is just guessing that he’s left wing.
Reporter: What would you say their politics are?
Neighbor: I’m not sure. I’d imagine that they’re more left-leaning, uh, because of their support for the gay community and for, uh, for other people, but it is.... no I’m not sure what way they lean because...
Reporter: Because they have the LGBT flag...
Neighbor: Yeah. Yeah.
Later in the video the neighbor, identified only as Trish, says she didn’t even know Depape’s name before the news reports. So this isn’t exactly a definitive source on the man’s political views. The dozens of blog posts, however, paint a picture of someone with far-right views.
Obviously, none of the facts presented here will change the minds of people on the far-right who believe the attack on Paul Pelosi was some conspiracy to provoke outrage and sympathy for the Democrats. Steve Bannon, the former Trump advisor who was found guilty of contempt of Congress, said as much on his podcast over the weekend. But it’s still important to tell the truth and correct the record, if only for history’s sake.
If you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes conventional wisdom. And we’ve seen that play out countless times in recent years. Whatever you think of Nancy Pelosi, it’s important to tell the truth about what’s happening in the world so that reasonable people can make informed decisions.
“Our children, our grandchildren and I are heartbroken and traumatized by the life-threatening attack on our Pop,” Nancy Pelosi wrote over the weekend, according to CBS News.
“We are grateful for the quick response of law enforcement and emergency services, and for the life-saving medical care he is receiving. Please know that the outpouring of prayers and warm wishes from so many in the Congress is a comfort to our family and is helping Paul make progress with his recovery.”